Violeta de Chamorro: A Woman of Courage


January 1, 1983

Violeta de Chamorro is a Nicaraguan woman who knows what it is to struggle and suffer for an ideal.

As the wife of the former editor of the newspaper La Prensa, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, who was an outstanding champion of civil liberties in his country and the staunchest critic of the Somoza dictatorship, she endured her husband’s frequent imprisonments, exiles and, finally, his assassination in January 1978.

None of this, however, dimmed her spirit. With poise and determination she kept on struggling for what had been her husband’s—as well as her own—greater ideal: to free Nicaragua from the shackles of political oppression. When the revolution against the Somoza regime triumphed in 1979, Mrs. Chamorro became one of the five members of the newly appointed “government junta.” It seemed a unique historical opportunity to bring about her husband’s dreams, those for which so many Nicaraguans have died.

Soon, however, she met with disappointment. The revolutionary leadership, inspired by their Marxist ideology, started to curtail the hard won liberties and began to replace the old shackles with new and even more ominous ones.

The nightmare of the past is back, says Mrs. Chamorro, in the present letter to the Nicaraguan people. Sad and, even tragic, as her words may sound, they also convey the resolve of a woman who, forged in suffering and persecution, will always remain faithful to the ideals of freedom.

The following letter has never appeared in its entirety in the American press since it became available some weeks ago. 


Freedom of the Press Does Not Exist in Nicaragua

A Letter from Dona Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to the People of Nicaragua

With each passing day, freedom of the press is found to be more limited in our country, preventing us from expressing not only those events which happen daily in our social, political and economic life, but also prohibiting us from making known our own opinions, our editorial commentaries and, with that, from presenting and defending the ideals which served as the banner to La Prensa and to the Nicaraguan people to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship.

But the ultimate limit of this lack of freedom was reached on the occasion of the letter Pope John Paul II sent to the Nicaraguan bishops that on three consecutive occasions we were prohibited from publishing. And, when permission to publish was given to us, they wanted to impose the obligation of heading the letter with a communique from the Office of Media, which besides being insulting to His High Holiness, was false.

For those reasons La Prensa did not publish Monday the 9th, Wednesday the 11th and Thursday the 12th of August, as a formal protest and as a signal of refusing to submit ourselves to the arbitrary conditions that they wanted to impose on us and which in addition wounded our religious sensibilities.

In the face of such an attitude from La Prensa the Sandinista government seemed to set things right, and therefore La Prensa returned to circulation on Friday, August 13, in the form which our conscience dictated and demanded.

Reflecting on such incidents, I cannot help remembering July 19, 1979 when I entered my homeland at the head of a new government of national reconstruction, accompanied by the good will, tie understanding and support of all the democratic nations of the world. I felt strong and satisfied at having regained the liberty, lost during the Samozista dictatorship, thinking that the much longed-for freedom of thought speech and writing, as well as their indispensable consequences of political pluralism and a mixed economy, would now be achieved.

In this way I was carrying out the unconquerable yearnings of my husband, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, for which he gave his life. I thanked Christ for this opportunity which was given to me.

Nevertheless, scarcely three years later the Sandinista government, guided by totalitarian ideologies imported from other countries far from our history and our culture, is trying to maintain the concept that liberty of conscience is divisionism or ideological war.

In this way, what is an unrenounceable and inviolable right, consecrated by all wars of American independence, is made out to be the mere avariciousness and egotism of an exploiting class, without admitting the obvious truth, confirmed a thousand times by history, that without liberty of press there is no representative democracy, nor individual liberty, nor social justice, nor government responsibility, much less widespread justice and equality among citizens; on the contrary, there is darkness, impunity, abuse, mediocrity and repression.

The government, upon suppressing or stifling liberty of the press, thus loses the most efficient means of being objectively informed about errors which many times escape attention because of the bureaucracy and the sectarianism which surround it.

Because of all the preceding, it is incongruous, to put it mildly, that government officials dare to state in international meetings that freedom of the press exists here. There is no reason whatsoever to change the libertarian ideals of the Nicaraguans, taking from them their desire to be truthfully informed through the various communications media, of the diverse and natural tendencies in the country, of what is happening in the everyday social occupation, or (their wish) to be informed about the many different ideologies which independent intellectuals uphold.

To deny those rights would amount to condemning the Nicaraguan people to be mere passive receptors of a angle line of information, denying as a consequence their capability to intelligently choose, that is to say, to be responsibly free.

It has been my fate to live as the wife of a journalist who loved freedom of the press, during the greater part of the 45 years in which we endured the bloodiest dynasty that this hemisphere has had. Many of the current leaders had not yet been born and therefore do not know the brutal methods used by Somoza, the censorship, the jailings, the exiles, the confinements and tortures and how, little by little, the concentration of power, achieved by degree, carried all of us Nicaraguans to inconceivable levels of repression.

But I feel now that I am reliving that horrible nightmare because my husband’s love of liberty made me deeply sensitive to all such actions of the government which day by day undermine freedom.

At the beginning, when only freedom of the press is taken away or hindered, it would seem that the only thing lost is the privilege of being informed, the right to complain and protest. But in a short while, owing to the lack of freedom of expression, the public power increases, becomes deformed and undoes the function of the government, whose legitimate mission is to see to the common good of the citizens without distinction of classes, parties or religions.

Then begins the second stage, in which the abuses are multiplied, the bloody deeds repeated, the injustices heaped up. The people whimper and whine in silence, gagged, whispering their sorrows, and end by repenting of having let them take away the freedom to protest, when they still had the strength and the possibility of exercising it.

Much is the blood that has been spilled, many are the years which have been invested, many the hopes which have been awakened, for us to allow to be taken away so easily the freedom that belongs to us as a right, as Pedro stated it on repeated occasions.

Other people, in other latitudes, fought to conquer each other and knew beforehand that the final aim of the war was to make others into the slaves and vassals of the victor.

But for us, the battle was waged with a deeper consciousness, not of fratricide or of domination, nor to form part of other foreign interests; but the battle was fought for the clearest, most genuine, healthiest, most enduring reasons, and thus it is finally our inalienable right to be forever free.



  • Humberto Belli

    Humberto Belli was in charge of the editorial page of La Prensa for two years. He now lives in the United States and works with the Secretariat for Non Believers.

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